The Alkaline Diet is one that has sparked a lot of media interest in recent years following huge celebrity endorsements.
Followers of the diet claim that replacing acidic foods with more alkaline ones has huge benefits to health and can even help to fight cancer!
Interestingly, the doctor behind the 2010 publication “The pH Miracle”, who became famous for his alkaline diet approach, has in fact been very heavily fined and is about to go to jail for defrauding terminally ill cancer patients out of money. He was allegedly treating them with nothing more than baking soda!
How does it work?
The theory is that the foods you eat can either make your body more or less acidic or alkaline. So, basically you can control your body’s pH through your nutrition.
Proponents of the diet claim that an acidic environment within the body makes you more vulnerable to illness and disease whereas alkaline foods can improve your health and longevity.
Foods believed to be more acidic include meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, grains and alcohol whereas fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes are considered to be alkaline. There are also ‘neutral’ foods such as healthy fats, sugars and starches.
The truth is, however, that our blood pH is extremely tightly regulated at between 7.32-7.42 (Bogdanis et al, 1995). But what does this mean?
Well, the pH value measures how acidic or alkaline something is.
The pH value ranges from 0 to 14:
- 0-7 is acidic.
- 7 is neutral.
- 7–14 is alkaline
Maintaining homeostasis (internal stability) is one thing that our body is very good at and an acid-base balance plays a key role in this.
Another thing you need to know is that pH values do vary within the body. For example, the stomach needs to be acidic to break down food so its pH ranges between 2 and 3.5 whereas muscle pH doesn’t fall below 6.5 – 6.7 which is also considered acidic. Blood pH is, however, always slightly alkaline and if it becomes too acidic OR alkaline then you will most likely die. But this only happens if you have a particular illness or disease not because you may have eaten too much beef!
Can you really affect your pH levels?
As has been discussed, your body regulates your pH extremely well to prevent you from death. Food, therefore, cannot affect it. It can, however, affect the pH levels of your urine which many alkaline dieters will have you believe ‘proves’ you can manipulate your blood pH.
Your urine is, however, a very poor indicator of your blood pH. Let’s not forget that urination is a form of waste disposal. It is one of the functions that the body uses to regulate homeostasis and therefore pH levels. If your urine is acidic, this is actually a very good indicator that your body is very healthily disposing of the bad stuff! Urine is therefore a very poor marker of your bodies acidity and/or general health.
Does an alkaline diet improve bone health?
Another argument for the alkaline diet is that protein needs to be neutralised within the body and it does so by taking calcium from our bones. This, in turn, ‘weakens’ them and can lead to osteoporosis.
Calcium does indeed have an alkalising effect but our bodies do not take it from our bones to ‘alkalise’ protein. In actual fact, the opposite has been seen in scientific studies where higher protein diets actually appear to improve bone health (Tucker et al, 2001).
So what about cancer, can an alkaline diet help?
Although many people will argue that cancer can be treated and even cured with an alkaline diet, the research actually states that there is no link.
This is because, contrary to popular belief, cancer can also grow in an alkaline environment, not just an acidic one. Whilst cancer does indeed grow faster amongst acidic cells, it is the cancer itself that promotes this acid environment; as has been demonstrated, it has nothing to do with what we do or don’t eat.
So is all lost?
With all of that said, the alkaline diet does promote some very healthy behaviours.
It promotes an eating regime that is high in fresh fruits and vegetables which is certainly not the norm within our Westernised culture. It steers people away from highly processed junk which can only have positive benefits.
Anyone following it for any other reason that that, however, has been led astray. It cannot magically cure disease or ‘alkalise’ your blood but it could improve your health by encouraging a more nutrient dense, whole food based approach to eating.
This was brought to you by Rebecca Flannery, Evidence Based Nutritionist at Transformational Nutrition.